I’m not quite sure what to say of Tokyo. It is an enormous metropolis that I don’t think I could fully explore even if I had a full month in it. While there exists the Tokyo prefecture, there are also the three large surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa that I didn’t get a chance to visit. As my time was limited to a week here, I spent most of my time only within the bounds of the Tokyo Metro system.
I arrived into Tokyo in the evening, so after checking in to my hostel and dropping my bag off, I spent the rest of the evening getting to know some of the other residents at my hostel and we went out for some ramen together. Following that, I decided to go for a late night stroll in Shibuya, check out a place called ‘Alcaztraz ER’ and see The Scramble at night. And it’s honestly quite a sight to behold. Even close to midnight, it looks as lively as ever against the typical backdrop of illuminated billboards. On the way back to my accommodation, I also got a chance to see the Skytree at night and jump into the twenty-four hour Don Quijote – a chain of large ‘discount’ stores that sell everything, no really, almost everything. Oh, I actually stayed pretty close to Bandai’s offices and I didn’t know until I walked past!
Whilst planning out my trip, I decided to split up my time in Tokyo to each of its neighbourhoods. My aim was to explore a few neighbourhoods a day, and I would also recommend that for anyone staying for a longer period in Tokyo because it gives you a somewhat systematic approach to cover as much of Tokyo as you want. Since I stayed in the Asakusa area, I went out to see the local shrines and attractions such as Senso-ji and Asakusa-jinja. Following that, I visited the Shibuya district in the daytime. Shibuya is filled with many shops, department stores, and of course has the famous pedestrian crossing that is named after it. If you’re a music fan, then I’d definitely hit Tower Records, as they only exist in Japan now I think – they still have an entire level for vinyl records. I then spent the afternoon in Chiyoda looking at the Imperial Palace gardens and had a picnic of soba noodles in the park – perfect for a hot day. And at night, I went out to Roppingi, famous for its nightlife and high-end shopping. I also tried Ippudo here, a chain of ramen stalls famous for their Hakata style.
I didn’t actually go back to my hostel that night as I wanted to see the tuna auction at the Tsukiji fish markets. I decided to spend a few hours of the early morning at a manga café, though, I actually missed out this time as I got to the market at around four in the morning, and they had just run out of their 120 limited daily spots. It was disappointing, but I still had a few chances in the coming days. So, I went around Ginza in the early morning to take a look at the Kabuki-za, and its shops, including Itoya, a somewhat classy multi-storey stationary store that serves free coffee to all customers (score!). I then spent the afternoon in Odaiba, which I’d say is actually one of the most interesting places in all of Tokyo, though somewhat more difficult to access and get around. In Odaiba there is the Diver City Plaza, famous for the enormous Gundam statue in front of it, though it was actually taken down in preparation for the new Gundam Unicorn statue that will be erected in the coming months (Was still under construction and I could only see its legs). Nonetheless, I still got a chance to visit the Fuji TV building, Panasonic Center, see the Tokyo Big Sight (where the comikets are held), and the Toyota Megaweb. The Toyota Megaweb is enormous, and it is possible to spend hours there just looking at the cars, trying the simulators, and possibly even test driving a car (need an International license valid for Japan). For the night, I headed over the Akihabara! It really was quite close to how I imagined it, the streets are lined with maids inviting you in to their cafes, and there are billboards of anime-related items all over the place. For some reason, I think of Kirino (OreImo) every time ‘Akihabara’ pops up in my head, probably because of this:
After checking out a few of the arcades and shops, I decided to go to a maid café. It felt like a must-try, no matter how cheesy it seemed. Honestly, it was a great experience, though incredibly embarrassing for someone not used to it. I went to Maidreamin, where the maids had a cute maid+neko theme. There was a live performance in which they sang and danced (thanks to the salarymen paying for it), and I was made to follow along with the all the moe-moe stuff that you’ve probably seen elsewhere. It was a great atmosphere, but again, it felt super embarrassing, especially alone.
I headed over to Shinjuku the following morning to see the Gyoen National Garden, a few government buildings, and the red light district. The Gyoen National Garden is one of the best in Japan I’d argue purely because of its size and diversity. The so-called red light district is one of the largest around. It’s relatively tame in the daytime, though quite often a few ladies would call out “Onii-san, massage”. I came back to the kabuki-chou later at night to see how it was – definitely much more like a red-light district, but still bustling with people and nothing quite like other ones around the world. I also visited the area around Omotesando and Meiji-jingu shrine where a wedding happened to be taking place. It was certainly interesting to watch part of a traditional Japanese wedding – though it looked rather solemn and quite unlike what I’d expected. I then headed over to Minato to see Zojoji temple and the Tokyo Tower, an amazing view at sunset I think, and one of my favourites. At night, I hit Gotanda, a place famous for its izakayas where salarymen hang out after work. Though it was a Saturday, it was still filled with many people and most izakayas were full. I got into one where they had awesome 100 yen and below skewers, as well as a matcha shochu found only in Japan. I have to admit that having some sake and the matcha shochu was probably a tad overkill (that stuff is way stronger than a beer!), and I felt somewhat dizzy as I made my way back to my hostel that night.
When Sunday came around, I decided to go to Harajuku, in hopes of perhaps seeing a cosplay gathering, though it has mostly died down over the years. There was no major cosplay gathering, though I did get to see various individuals and employees in cosplay. The streets were also jam-packed with locals and tourists on this particular day, but it was great nonetheless to walk down the famous street on a Sunday. The nearby Yoyogi park is also probably my favourite park in Japan because of how lively it is with so many curious personalities, performers, stalls, and the atmosphere it has. Following that, I made a brief visit to Hie shrine before strolling around Kagurazaka, a place with a beautiful and characteristic streetscape. It might look rather ordinary in pictures, but it has a certain charm about it. I then spent the afternoon in Tokyo Dome City, followed by an exploration of Takadanobaba in the evening, supposedly the home of Astroboy. I had originally planned to hit another izakaya in Takadanobaba, but someone told me about a Michelin-star ramen restaurant at normal prices, and I simply couldn’t resist so I hurried off to Toshima to try Nakiryu’s famous dandan noodles. I’ve obviously been having a lot of ramen, but Tokyo is a paradise for any food you could want really, and there’s plenty to try. Another I’d recommend is a stand-up sushi bar where everything is made in fresh in front of you.
I arranged a meet-up with Samat, a local, for a ‘pilgrimage’ of sorts on Monday. As we travelled to various outer cities across the Tokyo prefecture, I realised how almost every station had skyscrapers surrounding it, and that the ‘city’ never really ends anywhere, it just keeps on extending. Tokyo is one of the densest population centers after all, so it’s no wonder that many creators or directors might have taken their inspiration from some of the more residential districts. I actually noticed many others that seem to be based on real locations such as Kuzu no Honkai, Tokyo Ghoul, Saekano, and so on.
Of course, there were many other places that I got to visit and see, though not all have been detailed here. I’ve simply kept the highlights. Tokyo feels like one of those places that you can keep going back to without getting bored because there are so many aspects to it, and so many ways to explore it. There are so many different subcultures and districts that you can spend time getting to know, and that’s what makes Tokyo the massive metropolis that it is.